Elliot Ferrell, MJLST Staff
American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, Inc. has seen a surge in the news as the parties head in for arguments next Tuesday, and Justice Alito has no longer recused himself. The case involves copyright issues in streaming television over the internet, specifically asking “Whether a company ‘publicly performs’ a copyrighted television program when it retransmits a broadcast of that program to thousands of paid subscribers over the internet.”
Some of the arguments revolve around the technology used. Aereo maintains that their streaming service is not a “public performance” in violation of copyright law because the DVR’d copy of customer’s television content, saved to the cloud, comes from an “individual antenna” accessing “free-to-air broadcasts.” However, others counter that Aereo’s technology does not save them from violating the law because, when it comes to down to it, they are simply taking a signal, repackaging it, and selling it to their customers without compensating those who produce the content.
Personally, I can see the appeal of such a service. I catch my Game of Thrones on HBOGO, and whatever else I feel like watching on Netflix or the free section on Hulu. A few years ago, if there were a way to watch Lost immediately on the internet, then I may have questioned whether it was worth owning a television at all. However, none of this makes for a particularly compelling legal argument.
Perhaps the most relevant issue that will come out of this for the average person is what will happen to the consumer experience. If Aereo is successful than it could lead to cheaper prices cable bills, as Aereo’s service costs a mere $8 per month while the average cable bill is over $100. However, this argument is complicated by the fact that a typical cable package includes a bit more than just the free-to-air broadcasts (but how much of that does the consumer really care about/want to pay for?), and Aereo’s service is available in only a few regions. Additionally, one option broadcasters have in the event of an Aereo victory is to remove free-to-air content and sell it instead, perhaps with a streaming service of their own.
The consumer experience has been enriched by the options presented by television streaming services, and Aereo’s service seems to supplement the current trend nicely. However, with the proliferation of sites like Netflix and Hulu and individual content producers providing their own similar services, access to free-to-air broadcasts over the internet seems kind of like an inevitability.